Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Non Restaurant Rant: A Letter to Disney re: Hannah Montana Show

I think that writing to big corporations is a good way to vent and isn't too frustrating if you don't expect much in return. I just had to write this letter.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am watching an episode of "Hannah Montana" on the Disney Channel with my 10 year old daughter and some of the content on the show I found absolutely unacceptable on many levels.

Two of the characters in this "Freaky Friday" episode were dealing with vegetarian food. They were having a discussion about the health aspects of vegetarian food and one of the characters made some very disparaging remarks and went as far as asking another character to belch at him after eating a hot dog.

As a vegetarian I find this reprehensible. Whether or not you believe that vegetarian food is better, healthier, or have had the unfortunate experience in 2009 of tasting vegetarian food that tasted like rabbit food is not the point. It is healthier and if prepared with the least bit of effort is incredibly more complex than "...peas, beans, and jicama in a salad."

What is the point is saying disparaging remarks about healthy or DIFFERENT food choices than those made in the Standard American Diet. If they had a Kosher meal would you have allowed a character to make fun of those food choices? If they had been Hindi or Buddist and not eaten beef would you have allowed those remarks in that situation? So you took a child who just wanted to eat healthier and take care of her body and made fun of it. Once again I ask you, what was the point of that?

People make dietary choices for many reasons in the Vegan/Vegetarian world, some for health, some for compassion and animal rights and welfare, some for the environment, and some just want a break from the daily cuisine of bacon, beef, pork and chicken at every single meal. You really lost an opportunity to show how diversity in many different areas of life should be accepted and welcomed. You really lost an opportunity to gently nudge our youth into opening their minds to a different and healthier food choice. You actually could have had the character say something like, "you know her food was pretty boring and uninteresting like peas, beans and jicama salads until I got her that vegetarian cookbook.

We are very much a Disney family, attending your California parks every year, attending concerts and purchasing Disney theme merchandise. I will not support a company that puts a laugh ahead of the possibility of teaching a lesson that not only can vegetarian food be tasty but also possibly a step in the right direction in fighting childhood obesity and diabetes. Encouraging the scarfing down of junk food is not acceptable corporate behavior from a company which has the potential to positively influence entire generations of children.

I will very much consider attending other theme parks and encourage my child and her friends to spend our discretionary dollars on non Disney items and spend her free time watching non Disney channels.

Marty Krutolow

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bennachin Restaurant in New Orleans

Bennachin Restaurant
"A Taste of Africa"
1212 Royal St
New Orleans, Louisiana

No web site Arrrgh!!!

It seems almost every other restaurant in New Orleans has some sort of appeasement dish, a veggie burger or Pasta Primavera so as not to lose the veto vote. Many will happily make a dish for you without meat. Whoo Hooo, I do feel so honored.

Several restaurants come up on the iPhone app (Happy Cow) as vegetarian friendly but I always have the feeling I have to ask some qualifying questions such as, "Is the sauce make with chicken stock?", because they are, in fact, mainstream restaurants.

So with several choices I opted for Bennachin Restaurant, serving African food.

It's a storefront restaurant way down on Royal Street which is still in the Quarter but away from the craziness. It was nice and quiet and with subdued tones of brown and deep sunset orange with an exposed brick wall and what to my untrained eye looked like African art it was a warm and inviting environment. My only comment is that I probably would have enjoyed some ethnic music rather than, (and I know how important this is), the football game. I miss out on things when I have to work and if you have to work then I guess it's your turn. I don't think the other middle age couple requested it. Anyway, I think football belongs in a sports bar and pretty much TV is out of place in a restaurant.

I do like the fact that even if it IS only a BEEF dish sans beef it gets some real estate on a menu page. Bennachin's menu has a secton with 6 dishes titled "Vegetables". Unfortunately the descriptions of dishes I've never had or even heard of is merely a list of which vegetables are in the dish and which starch they come with. I think this might be more descriptive as I would imagine that most diners, like me, have limited experience with native cuisine. When I asked the waiter which dishes he recommended he said, "40,41,42, and 44 are the most popular." Hmmmm. OK.

2 are listed as ginger sauces, one a tomato stew and another a curry sauce.

I opted to start with the Black Eyed Pea Fritters as the vegetarian waitress at the Sugar Shack spoke very highly of them.

I thought they were a lighter version of say, falafel with a more neutral taste but they were served with a spiced onion and tomato paste sauce which I couldn't get enough of.

My entree, the Black Eyed Peas in Onion and Tomato Stew served with Coconut Rice and Fried Ripe Plantains was what I went for. I thought it would more or less come in a pot as a "stew" but it was more a rice and beans variant with stewed black eyed peas. I liked the flavor, mild and tasty but as I'm a hot sauce kind of guy, it was better, (as I think most things are), with a few shakes. I was in New Orleans...how could I not think, "BAM!"?

The coconut rice was flavorful, subtle, with a smattering of veggies. The plantains were fried but not overly sweet. Almost like a taste of young plantains that had just moved into the ripe phase...but as tender as they were in the beginning of the meal they were more of a sweet tostones.

And then there was this roll. I couldn't figure it out. It's like a kind of white flour, sweetish, supermarket thing. Give me a hunk of dark peasant bread and it would have been the perfect compliment.

I would eat here again and ask many more questions. I think this is the kind of place you can feel really comfortable with the food after ordering it a few times and know what things are.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cafe Bamboo in the Lions Den New Orleans

There are several veg friendly restaurants which come up in New Orleans on the iphone app but with Bamboo Cafe being the only 100% vegetarian off we went.

We drove around for a few minutes and realized the best bet for parking would be a lot, (5 bucks ... not bad by New York standards and a lot better than finding a ticket on the car), we entered the place. It's like a bar where the Ramones might have started out and later Vanessa our waitress told us it was in fact a venue for new bands ... so expect a no frills sort of place. Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of came to mind. It was dark and the only two people in the place were sitting at one of the tables in the bar and I thought, "Oh no, they're closed, I should have called," but they couldn't have been happier to see us and cheerfully sat us. Outside in the warm sun. My thoughts of the cold winter lying ahead up north far from my mind.

Ah the menu, always a delight to know that there is no hidden animal stuff in the meals and how nice it is not to have to check and double check.

There were 3 appetizers that caught my eye; Sol Chik'n Nuggets, Caramelized Cauliflower Crustini and Collard Green Rolls. I ordered the Sampler for $14 which was near 3 times the price of any one appetizer. I figured the plate would be huge and it was just a normal dinner plate of appetizers.

The Sol Chik'n Nuggets were very similar to a product I have had before and purchase from the Chinese vegetarian store on Hester Street and use in my home cooking. Since I love the product taste and consistency I was in no way disappointed. It was served with a KC type bbq sauce which was scratch made. It was very molassasy and sweet and rich and good.

The Collard Green Rolls were by far the most original and special food of the meal and I wished there were 10 not 3. Crispy breaded eggrolls stuffed with collards and an hint of ham. Great. Served with an off the shelf sweet chili pepper sauce which none the less went very nicely with the food.

The hummus was refreshingly garlicky although the pita crisps were a bit overdone.

I also was engrossed with Chef Aji and Vanessa and sadly Chef pointed out that the Caramelized Cauliflower Crustini never made it to the plate. This was indeed sad.

My flying partner ordered the red beans and rice and said it was one of the best he had ever eaten.

My Bourbon Chik'n Dinner was served with an excellent bbq sauce but was comprised of the same soy nuggets that came with the appetizer. I was hoping for something original and unique and although I do like the nuggets it was more of the same.

I asked for my mashed sweet potatoes to be split so I could taste some of the garlic mashed. The sweet potatoes were not loaded with sugar and had a wonderful taste of the potato. The mushroom gravy on the mashed never popped for me but it was a small 1/2 sized side and had only a dollop. The spinach was fresh and garlicky and sauteed just perfectly.

It was only after leaving the restaurant and looking over the menu I realized the cornbread was missing.

My buddy ordered the chocolate "moose" pie and I reminded him a few times it was vegan and had nothing he was used to in it except for the chocolate. My warnings were totally unnecessary as it was delicious.

Talking with Vanessa and Chef Aji was delightful and insightful. I do hope that chef uses more of his talent and potential in producing many more additions of "from scratch" components. A chicken seitan cutlet pan seared and crusted would have been the perfect sponge for his bourbon bbq sauce.

This place has a solid footing and provides a guy like me with a no questions asked vegetarian meal of solid comfort food. I would definitely eat here again and hope the little lapses in attention to detail on the plates would have been corrected because the food was very much exactly what I look for.